Letter from America
Cara Sheridan O’Donnell
If you are reading this, then the world has not yet come to an end. For months now, you have probably overheard or even engaged in conversations about the 12/21/12 end-of-the-world prediction made centuries ago by Mayan scientists. If you believed their prediction, then you probably have not done your Christmas shopping. If that is the case, I’d encourage you now to drop what you’re doing and get crack-a-lackin’ right this minute. If you rejected the prediction, your presents might be already wrapped, under the tree, and ready to be opened by recipients on Christmas morning. (In that case, I’m just envious of your preparedness.) Quite a few people I know took no interest in the Mayan prophecy at all. Several of them recently provided an explanation for their nonchalance.
“I try to live each day as if it is my last, whether it is the last day of life only for me or for the entire world,” my friend Amy said to me. Now, you must understand that Amy is the least gloomy woman I have ever known. She doesn’t appear to dwell on this subject at all but, if her personal behavior and interactions with others are any indication, then her subconscious mind is roiling with last-day thoughts during most of her waking hours. I am here to tell you that Amy is ready for anything. Should an invasion of her home by zombies ever occur, she would probably invite them to sit down for lunch, offer them her right arm, but ask them (ever so politely) to spare her left upper extremity so that she could finish stirring the batter for the cake she wished to give them for dessert.
Most people do not – and even actively try not to – think that any one particular day might be their last day on earth. As they finished breakfast, started their cars, and drove off to teach school last Friday, three Connecticut schoolteachers, a behavioral therapist, a principal, and a school psychologist most likely envisioned a day much like any other, with, perhaps, the addition of dealing with the pre-vacation exuberance most children exhibit in mid-December. Twenty small charges in their care certainly expected nothing out of the ordinary, either. Neither did the parents of those children. But when the unthinkable happened, stunning the world, life for the families of those 26 souls would never again be the same.
Immediate reactions had more to do with the need for gun control in the USA, increased availability of mental health care, and improved school security measures than with the simple admission that bad things happen in our ailing world, most often without any explanation at all for its random appearances. As reality began to sink in, though, and shock started to wear off, a nation grieved right along with the families of the 26 Newtown victims. The very sensitive even expressed their sympathy for the father and brother of the gunman and sorrow over the seemingly senseless slaughter of a 27th victim, the gunman’s own mother in a separate shooting earlier that morning. Some people were quick to criticize the presence at a memorial service for the victims by a US President who declines to attend Sunday services (in a church long used to attendance by a sitting president) with the explanation that it would “distract” others from worship. Others praised the sensitivity he exuded in meeting with victims’ family members at that memorial.
What nobody could argue about was the bravery of the Sandy Hook Elementary School staffers who lost their lives that Friday morning. Without exception, each one made the ultimate sacrifice in her attempt to spare the Sandy Hook children any harm. Some succeeded; others, sadly, were unable to save children. Teachers all over the US asked themselves if they would have been as selfless. Personally, I have no doubt that the vast majority of them would have done the same. The protection of children is a powerful natural instinct, making it possible for otherwise ordinary adults to perform heroic feats of strength and acts of courage. This instinct might be even stronger in those who choose to work with children in professional capacities. While Newtown could be Anytown, even Yourtown, and its children yours or mine, so too could its teachers be standing in front of classrooms filled with our children. Even as we grieve for the citizens of Newtown, mourning their losses right along with them, keep in mind that any day might be the last for you, for me, or even for a significant number in any small town. Taking our cue from those prepared for anything, living each day as if it were our last is a good idea. Living each day as a person worth remembering is even better.
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